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Raising Major Gifts: A New Study

Resource Center - Foundation

Dr. Adrian Sargeant and Amy Eisenstein, ACFRE, will be holding a webinar on Oct. 28 entitled “How to Raise Major Gifts the Right Way,” based on fascinating new research from a major study they developed. 

Before you register for their webinar, read the interview below with them both as they chat about their recent study of 662 nonprofits, the common issues and insights they found, and what charities can do to raise more major gifts.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the research project?

Adrian: It was a large scale survey of the experiences of smaller fundraising organizations with major gifts. We looked specifically at nonprofits with donated revenue of $10 million or less. We wanted to understand how they approached and defined major gifts, and we wanted to learn about the factors that drive success in that form of fundraising.

Amy: I've spent the last few years working with organizations on raising major gifts, and I wanted to have some research to back up my experience and theory. This research project is the culmination of years of work, trying to determine the best ways for smaller nonprofits to successfully raise major gifts.

Q: What’s a good resource for fundraisers to stay on top of research in the field in general?

Adrian: Our Centre's [Plymouth University Center for Sustainable Philanthropy] own web resource is available online. It is also worth checking the website of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University from time to time as they also publish work in this space. While it is still available, I would recommend the Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy.  Paul Schervish and John Havens have done more work in this space than most, and it is a delight to read because the gentlemen are great writers. Sadly their Center is closing, but their output speaks for itself. 

There is also the AFP's own website which carries links to relevant materials, and of course the sector press such as the Chronicle and the Nonprofit Times, which also do a great job of raising awareness of recently completed work. 

Q: What do you think is the biggest misconception about raising major gifts? 

Adrian:  Many boards believe that all you need to do to raise money from major gifts is to appoint a major gift officer. And many believe that it should be possible to generate a return in one year. Most programs take at least 3-5 years to become established and start generating good returns. Frankly it takes time to build relationships, and these things need to happen at the donor's pace, not the organization's pace. 

Amy:  Most organizations waste time and energy looking for new donors when all they need to do is take a good hard look at their current donors. They might not have $1 million donor in their database, but they always have donors who could give a lot more than they currently are. 

Q: From a fundraising perspective, what does a nonprofit organization need to be sustainable?

Adrian:  Fundamentally, a good case for support—something distinctive that speaks to the organization's unique contribution to solving one or more of society's problems. This case needs to be compelling and invoke genuine passion and emotion.

Then there needs to be a board which understands how fundraising works and views it as an INVESTMENT, not an expense. 

And for real long term sustainability there needs to be a genuine culture of philanthropy where fundraising is not an organizational silo, but rather something everyone in the organization sees as their place to contribute to.

Q: Given what you know about fundraising now, if you could go back in time to the start of your career and tell yourself something about the profession, what would it be?

Adrian:  Fundraisers need to be at least as concerned with the needs of the donor as they are with the needs of the beneficiary. As a sector we've become too focused on the latter and neglected the former. Philanthropy should be an enriching experience but it will only become so when the genuine needs of the donor to feel good are met.

Amy:  The most successful fundraisers focus on individual donors, not grant writing or event planning.  Raising major gifts takes time, energy, and patience, but the return on investment is always worth it.

Interest piqued? Amy gave a great presentation about some of initial findings of the research at AFP’s recent Leadership Academy, and you’ll not want to miss the full results.


For more info or to register for the October 28 webinar at 1:00 p.m. Eastern, click here.  

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